Monday, March 25, 2019
The RP Group

The LFM Academy focuses on promoting organizational coherence within each college through the integration and coordination of college nullprograms including equity, student success, basic skills, and professional development.

California Community Colleges need strong, innovative “middle” leaders — faculty, department chairs, directors, deans, student services professionals, researchers, classified staff — who can effectively respond to the myriad of reforms facing our institutions, facilitate communication, and move stakeholders to action. The RP Group is working to develop this group of critical change makers through our Leading from the Middle (LFM) Academy.


Coaching Coordinators

Ireri Valenzuela, Coaching Coordinator Lead and Coach

Ireri Valenzuela, Coaching Coordinator Lead and Coach

Ireri Valenzuela joined the RP Group as a senior researcher in 2014. In this role, she primarily conducts qualitative research focused on gathering student voices that help inform the efforts of California Community Colleges address student equity gaps, improve academic programs and services, and create more equitable experiences for all students to support their success. In addition to her researcher role at the RP Group, Ireri became part of the Leading from the Middle Academy team in 2017. (Read More)

Prior to becoming a “formal” educator, Ireri taught English to low-income Latino and South East Asian immigrants in the Central Valley.

Inspired by her students’ resilience and witnessing the impact education had on their lives, Ireri returned to school and got a masters in Adult Education from SFSU. Ireri started her education career designing, implementing, and leading adult basic education and workplace education programs for homeless and formerly homeless adults in San Francisco.

Later in her career, she worked at California Tomorrow where she developed and lead the Campus Change Network (CCN) which focused on working with California Community College practitioners seeking to address equity issues on their campuses by leading systems change efforts.

Kristina Whalen, Co-coaching coordinator

Kristina Whalen, Co-Coaching Coordinator

Kristina Whalen’s first joined LFM as a participant with her City College of SF team and recently became an LFM coach.

After years of following her passion for teaching in the community college system, Kristina Whalen moved into district-level leadership positions, including Department Chair for Communication Studies and SLO Coordinator at (CCSF), which, at the time, was under heavy sanction for its outcome assessment practices. (Read More)

In this latter role, Kristina worked with other like-minded faculty leaders to further institutionalize a standard process for reporting assessment while validating the necessity of varied and multiple methods of collecting assessment data. She and her team also worked closely with the CCSF Research and Planning Office in order to inform and support the college’s assessment and equity goals.

In addition to these roles, Kristina Whalen has served as Chair of the Student Preparation and Success Committee; on two accreditation self-study teams; and as a member of the Accreditation Steering and Professional Development Committee.

Currently, she is the Dean of Fine, Applied and Communication Arts at CCSF, guiding support for 10 departments and the Fort Mason Art Campus. District-wide, she works on the launch of a Maker Space, on the introduction of a campus-wide Early Alert system, and with Basic Skills Initiative coordinators.

Holly Piscopo, Co-coaching coordinator

Holly Piscopo, Co-Coaching Coordinator

Holly Piscopo has served in both formal and informal leadership roles at Sacramento City College (SCC), all of which relate to the intertwined goals of improving how the college addresses basic skills, student equity, and student success.

At SCC, she served as Staff Development Coordinator responsible for the college's two-year Engagement and Empowerment initiative where she worked to connect the aspects of the Basic Skills Initiative with efforts focused on student equity. (Read More)

Holly also served as the SCC BSI Coordinator where she focused on streamlining the program to focus on intentional integration of instruction and student services.

Holly began her participation in LFM in 2014, where her college’s team created the ESTEEM program (Essential Support Teams in English, ESL, and Math, implemented shortly thereafter at SCC. She joined the coaching team in 2018.


Rose Asera, Coach

Rose Asera, Coach

Rose Asera began her participation in Leading from the Middle as the Academy’s internal evaluator. She is currently a member of the LFM Steering Committee and a researcher and leader for the RP Group, where she has helped produce the Strengthening Student Success Conference. In this role, she worked with the the partner organizations, the conference’s steering committee, and RP Group staff to build the breadth and depth of the conference content.  (Read More)

Rose Asera has also served as director of the Carnegie Foundation’s community college project, Strengthening Pre-collegiate Education in Community College (SPECC), which was a powerful incubator for segments of present day community college work and has been responsible for nurturing a number of campus and statewide leaders.

Across her career, Rose has been a leader from the middle, side, and back. While she steps to the front when the need arises, she prefers to provide support from behind the curtain.


Artour Aslanian, Coach

Bio coming soon. 

Misty Burruel, Facilitator

Misty Burruel, Coach

Bio coming soon.

Melissa Bader, Facilitator

Melissa Bader, Coach

Melissa Bader began her participation in Leading from the Middle in 2016 as a member of the Norco College LFM team. She joined the Leading from the Middle coaching team in 2018. Melissa brings a great deal of college leadership experience to LFM, including serving as the Chair for the Communications Department and lead for the English discipline. (Read More)


Quinton Bemiller, Coach

Bio coming soon.


Erin Denney, Coach

Erin Denney, Coach

Erin Denney began her participation in Leading from the Middle in 2016 as a member of the City College of San Francisco team. Then, in 2017, she joined LFM again, this time as a coach. Erin has served in a number of professional leadership roles at City College of San Francisco, including that of Basic Skills Coordinator for the English Department, during which time she built a core group of dedicated faculty and implemented innovative, grant-funded changes to the curriculum. (Read More)

During her time as CCSF’s Professional Development Coordinator, she led several efforts including; researching and implementing best professional development practices, creating a Professional Development Committee, creating a Professional Development Plan, and implementing online flex reporting on her campus.

Currently, she is the Department Chair of the CCSF English Department, where she has led efforts to rebuild the department’s pre-collegiate English sequence, which included a full revamp of the English Placement Test and integration of multiple measures as part of that placement system.


Reagan Dozier, Coach

Bio coming soon.

End Vicki Fabbri, Coach

Vicki Fabbri, Coach

Working now as an LFM coach, Vicki Fabbri began her participation in LFM as a lead member of the Cabrillo College team. The team spent two years with the LFM program developing ideas about how guided pathways could be applied to the college and setting the stage for the college’s acceptance into the California Guided Pathways Project. (Read More)

Vicki’s role as an education leader began in the late 1970's as the coordinator of substance abuse education and prevention for the Guam Department of Education.

After graduate school she was the Assistant Director of the Program on Conflict Resolution at the University of Hawaii Manoa for several years. When she returned to teaching in California, she led a 5-year program planning process for the San Jose State University Communications Department.

Vicki has been at Cabrillo Community College since 2000 and during that time has participated in many college initiatives and committees. A few specific roles include: faculty Union Executive Board Member, Union Vice-President, Academy of College Excellence Director and Master Mentor trainer, faculty senate representative, faculty student-success and equity Coordinator. Currently, she is the Department Chair of the Communication Studies Department.

Luis Enrique Flores, Coach

Luis Enrique Flores, Coach

Luis Enrique Flores was a member of Merced College’s two-year Leading from the Middle team in 2016 and 2017, and joined the coaching crew in 2018. Luis hopes to create safe and active spaces that foster dialogue around the dynamic intersections of race/ethnicity, gender, abilities and other isms, and the impact they play in leadership development. (Read More)

He is currently a Senior Research Analyst, serving on a variety of committees, from shared governance to curriculum to Institutional Review Board (IRB) to CSEA’ E-Board, and works on a variety of initiatives, such as learning communities, MMAP, and guided pathways.

Outside of community college life, Luis has participated in various leadership institutes in and out of the Central Valley and currently sits on several boards, advocating for and committing to community-oriented social justice, including Valley Land Alliance (VLA), a non-profit promoting ag land and open space preservation in Merced County.

He is a graduate of UC Berkeley and the Graduate School of Education at the University of Pennsylvania. Luis, a proud cachanilla, enjoys slow food, Latin American art and community organizing/activism.

Vandana Gavaskar, Coach

Vandana Gavaskar, Coach

Vandana Gavaskar began her participation in LFM in 2017. Currently, she is a Director for a Title V grant at Santa Barbara City College focused on creating pathways for part-time students.

Vandana brings more than twenty years of teaching experience to her work, beginning her career as English faculty at The Ohio State University. (Read More)

She has also served as full-time faculty at three other post-secondary institutions. 

During her career, she has developed and participated in programs for student success in partnership with campus, statewide and national initiatives focused on equity and cultural diversity. She continues to lead workshops for various professional organizations and has also helped to develop a Center for Academic Excellence for a consortium of Historically Black Colleges and Universities.

Chris Hill

Chris Hill, Coach

During her community college career, Chris Hill has served in faculty leadership including serving as Academic Senate president, and in administrative positions spanning both instruction and student services — all of which helps her bring a broad, student-focused perspective to her work.

Chris has also led initiatives and facilitated college-wide work (such as guided pathways, Achieving the Dream, and integrated planning) that have resulted in transformational approaches to student success and institutional effectiveness. (Read More)

Her methods include engaging faculty, classified staff, administrators and students in meaningful discussions on how the college can improve processes and/or alter approaches; and by coalescing the ideas generated into a coherent plan for implementation and evaluation.

She currently serves as the Dean of Research, Planning, and Institutional Effectiveness at MiraCosta College


Michael Hoffman, Coach

Bio coming soon.


Jennifer JohnsonCoach

Bio coming soon.


Alice Mecom, Coach

Bio coming soon.


Brent Monte, Coach

Bio coming soon.


Ben Mudgett, Coach

Bio coming soon.


Vanson Nguyen, Coach

Bio coming soon.


Janice Offenbach, Coach

Bio coming soon.


Kurt Piland, Coach

Bio coming soon.


Josh Roberts, Coach

Bio coming soon.


Margery Regalado Rodriguez, Coach

Bio coming soon.


Chris J. Smith, Coach

Christopher J Smith, Coach

Chris Smith, a former LFM participant, has been teaching biology at College of San Mateo since 2006 and became a full-time instructor in 2011. He joined the LFM coaching team in 2018.

He has been a regular member of the Curriculum Committee and the Distance Education committee.  (Read More)

As part of a faculty team, he was awarded a District Chancellor’s grant to explore approaches to online education, and subsequently, he presented his research on online social activity and group work at California Community Colleges Online Teaching Conference as well as at the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

Chris has also been a regular attendee at the ASCCC institutes on Online Education, Curriculum, Continuing Technical Education, Biotechnology, C-ID teams, and Accreditation.


Rob Stevenson, Coach

Bio coming soon.

Gio Sosa

Gio Sosa

Gio Sosa is the Senior Research Analyst at Chaffey College, where he works on an array of projects relating to student success, access, and learning outcomes.

Currently, Gio is a member of IEPI’s Data Disaggregation Applied Solution Kit (ASK) team and has focused on examining the use of technology to enhance learning and well-being. (Read More)

His most recent work (manuscript in submission) includes an investigation into the impact of a video game intervention on the memory and cognitive abilities of adults over the age of 65.

Gio recently served as the Interim Dean of Institutional Effectiveness, Research, and Planning at Crafton Hills College and as the Project Manager for the implementation of a data warehouse at San Bernardino Community College District.

In his spare time, he teaches psychology classes at Cal State Fullerton. Gio is a former, 2013 LFM participant.

Michael Takeda, Coach

Michael Takeda, Coach

Michael Takeda began his participation in LFM in 2017 as a member of the Fresno City College team, which leveraged its time and experience with the academy to begin the process of developing the Guided Pathways framework for the entire college.

Michael played a key role in establishing the structure for the initial Pathways student cohort and implementing many of its key elements, including a new and comprehensive first-time-student orientation and the FCC Common Read. (Read More)

Using his experience at LFM, Michael is now part of the official workgroup that will manage the campus-wide implementation of Guided Pathways.

He has led the charge for pre-collegiate course acceleration, including membership on the FCC Pilot team for the RP Group’s Multiple Measures Assessment Project (MMAP) and Common Assessment Initiative.

In addition to his academic responsibilities at Fresno City College, Michael has co-organized a series of annual events to celebrate Asian culture, In his current role as President of the Asian American Faculty and Staff Association, he has fought for the disaggregation of demographic identifiers for Asian students, and founded events to celebrate achievements and connect the campus to the community.


Tabitha Villalba, Coach

Bio coming soon.

Diva Ward, Coach

Diva Ward, Coach

Diva C. Ward has been working in higher education for more than 20 years. Building on her librarian roots, Diva found her passion in higher education while working as an Assistant Project Director for the Upward Bound Program. She first discovered her passion for students, data, and data storytelling by working with low-income and first-generation students with Upward Bound. (Read More)

After spending more than 10 years working with TRIO, Diva then worked as a Hub Director for the Biotechnology Center — housed at Ventura College and funded through the California Economic Workforce and Development Department.

Diva also served as a Title V HSI Grant Director and Director of Student Support at Cañada College and continues to work as a collaborator and community-building instrument of change. She also continues to use data, data storytelling and data analysis as tools to guide her work and the design and implementation of programs and services that positively impact student success.


Robyn Wornall, Coach

Bio coming soon.

Keith Wurtz, Coach

Keith Wurtz, Coach

Keith Wurtz participated in the first Leading from the Middle cohort in 2013 as a team member from Crafton College. In 2018, he joined the Leading from the Middle coaching team. Keith started his career as an Adjunct Sociology Instructor at Chaffey College teaching courses in marriage and family, sociology, research methods, and statistics. (Read More)

Early in his career, he began working as a research analyst, and ultimately became Director of Research and then Dean of Institutional Effectiveness, Research, and Planning at Crafton Hills College.

While at Crafton, Keith worked with faculty to implement a well-received student learning outcomes assessment process. He has also has received commendations and awards in data collection and dissemination, research, and planning. He has served on the RP Group Board, facilitated 3CSN workshops, and has been a member of the Chancellor’s Office IEPI Technical Assistance Team since 2015.


Rebecca Wong, Lead Facilitator

Rebecca Wong, Lead Facilitator

Rebecca Wong has been with Leading from the Middle since its inception in 2013. She is a Steering Committee member, facilitator, and lead curriculum developer for the program.

Rebecca started her career in education as a high school teacher at one of the largest high schools in California located in a very diverse and economically challenged community.  (Read More)

She has served as a Chapter I Resource Specialist; has helped develop and evaluate programs designed to improve proficiency in Language Arts and mathematics; and has coordinated the University and College Opportunity Program, assisting underrepresented students in enrolling in 4-year institutions after high school graduation.

Rebecca has served as chair of the Mathematics Department and as the Division Chair of the Science/Math division at West Valley College and is currently the director of its Title III grant. As an active leader in her community, she also serves on the East Side Union High School District Education Foundation Board, supporting the needs of the ESUHSD community.

Ben Gamboa, Lead Facilitator

Ben Gamboa, Lead Facilitator

Ben Gamboa began his participation in Leading from the Middle as a member of the LFM Crafton Hills College team. Subsequently, he became an LFM coach and is now the Research Lead and a member of the Steering Committee.

Currently, he is the Associate Dean of Strong Workforce Programs at San Diego Miramar College where he manages the Strong Workforce, Perkins, and career education grants programs. (Read More)

Fascinated with effective and transformational leadership, Ben has led several transformative efforts, including integrating instructional and student services career-related programs into a new single cross-functional team, developing sustainable efforts to promote equity-mindedness, revitalizing staff participation in college governance, designing campus processes in support of undocumented students, and collaborating on a professional development program for aspiring future faculty members.

Previously, Ben served in appointed and elected leadership roles for a labor organization, where he led outreach efforts for six years — communicating the organization’s message to its quarter-million members and the California electorate.

Outside of higher education, he has served on the San Bernardino City Workforce Investment Board delivering job training programs and successful job placements to thousands of unemployed residents.

Debra Polak, Lead Facilitator

Debra Polak, Lead Facilitator

After “graduating” from LFM’s first academy in 2013, Debra Polak continued her involvement with LFM, and currently serves as an LFM coach and facilitator.

Debra began her work in education 20 years ago as a part-time instructor at Diablo Valley College and UC Berkley, where she also earned her BA in English and her MA in Education. Shortly after becoming a full-time English faculty member at Mendocino College in the Spring of 2000, she was asked to coordinate the college’s ESL program. In this role, she was instrumental in growing the program and bringing on the college’s first full-time ESL instructor. (Read More)

Debra also served as the first Basic Skills coordinator at Mendocino College; was involved in organizing union affiliation for full-time faculty; served as Curriculum Committee Chair; and as Dean of Instruction and Dean of Centers, where she led the establishment of the new Center on the Mendocino Coast, previously under College of the Redwoods.

Around the same time that she assumed this role, Debra was appointed to Interim Vice President of Academic Affairs. In this position, Polak was a part of the Education Master Plan, the implementation of new Accreditation standards and Guided Pathways.

In August of 2018, the Mendocino-Lake Community College District announced it had appointed Debra Polak as the new Vice President of Academic Affairs. According to Mendocino College, she was selected “to provide the leadership and direction needed to strengthen the academic vision of the institution while continuing to support the district’s diverse student population.”


Rachel Antrobus, Co-Facilitator

Bio coming soon.

Phyllis Braxton

Phyllis Braxton, Co-Facilitator

Phyllis Braxton currently works as a health sciences pathway counseling faculty member at Los Angeles Trade Technical College and also serves as a district coordinator for the Los Angeles College Promise Program.

Currently, Phyllis is working on her dissertation for her doctoral program that focuses on the study of career aspirations of current, mid-level administrators to determine the perceptions and experiences that impact administrators’ decisions to pursue a community college presidency.  (Read More)